- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011

A picture of Garnet “Ace” Bailey sits beside a television in Bruce Boudreau’s house, so it’s hard for the Washington Capitals coach to go long without thinking of his friend.

But Mr. Boudreau doesn’t need a photo to jog his memory. Mr. Boudreau and Bailey enjoyed laughs and thrills as the closest of friends until September 2001. Both were working for the Los Angeles Kings at the time - Mr. Boudreau as a minor-league coach in Manchester, N.H., and Bailey as a scout. Both needed to get to Los Angeles for training camp, and while the team changed Mr. Boudreau’s flight from Boston to Sept. 10 so he could attend a coaches dinner, Bailey wasn’t so fortunate.

It would have cost Bailey $750 out of his own pocket to fly a day earlier. Not willing to spare the hefty expense, he and fellow scout Mark Bavis got on United Airlines Flight 175, which hijackers flew into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

“The big shock settles down after a year or so,” Bailey’s sister-in-law, Barbara Pothier, said. “The pain is with us all the time.”

Mr. Boudreau started sobbing when he learned the news.

“That’s when it sort of hit me that, ‘holy jeez,’ ” he said. “Still, to that point in my life, I hadn’t had many friends die.”

Mr. Boudreau’s story about how a change of plans saved his life is remarkable, but he and others around hockey remember Bailey - who played 202 of his 568 career NHL games with the Caps - and Bavis.

“Ace was such a great guy, and I loved having him around. Mark Bavis was young and energetic,” said Andy Murray, who was then coaching the Kings. “All of our thoughts that day were about the loss, our guys and what was happening in the world.”

Bailey was part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Boston Bruins, but Mr. Boudreau remembers him as the guy with whom he spent the weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y., days before 9/11. The two hockey men had similar personalities, though Mr. Boudreau was always Bailey’s comic foil.

Mr. Boudreau tells a story about that last weekend when he and Bailey shared a room while attending a wedding and enjoyed a nice meal of potpourri.

“We get in there, we don’t even turn the lights on and, ‘Oh, there’s a welcome basket,’ ” Mr. Boudreau recalled. “So we start eating them and these things are stale, so he takes a mouthful and then he takes another mouthful. And he says, ‘If you chew ‘em, they’re not bad.’ Once we left that room and we became with other people, he said, ‘You’re not gonna believe what Bruce did.’ “

Bailey overslept Sept. 11 - the result of his wife, Katherine, accidentally setting the alarm for p.m. instead of a.m. - but he made it to the gate on time.

What happened from there, Mr. Boudreau wishes he knew.

“I would like to have seen what was going on on that plane because I know Ace wasn’t going to be sitting in his seat belt - he was going after somebody,” he said. “He was such a hero. In the end, I would venture to guess he was doing everything he could to save everybody on that flight.”

Ten years after Bailey’s death, his family and friends are left to reflect on a man who everyone says loved to laugh - and talk. Mr. Boudreau said Bailey knew every usher and maintenance person in every arena he walked into.

Mr. Boudreau lamented not seeing Ms. Pothier, Katherine Bailey and the rest of their family enough, but Ms. Pothier referred to the coach as a “big family favorite” nonetheless. Mr. Boudreau is looking forward to attending the Ace Bailey Memorial Golf Tournament again next year and hugging and sharing stories just like every time he sees his late buddy’s family.

Until then, all he has to do is glance next to his TV to think about Bailey.